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Monday, February 23, 1998 Published at 17:00 GMT


Car bomb explodes in Portadown
image: [ Firefighters tackle the aftermath of the bomb ]
Firefighters tackle the aftermath of the bomb

Portadown Mayor Kenneth Twydle says the blast has made local people very angry
A car bomb has exploded in Portadown in Northern Ireland as talks on the future of the province resume in Belfast.

According to commentators, the blast is being seen as a direct challenge to the talks from which Sinn Fein has been temporarily suspended.

The blast in the Armagh town happened a minute before midday (GMT) in Edward Street. Portadown's Ulster Unionist mayor, Kenneth Twydle, said many buildings had been destroyed.

After visiting the scene, he told the BBC: "Flames are shooting into the sky, it is a very, very serious situation. I have seen people in tears, people are shocked and stunned.

"The people who planted this bomb don't want the peace talks to succeed. They don't want peace in Northern Ireland."

The UK Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam, condemned the bombing as "senseless and wicked".

BBC Ireland Correspondent Denis Murray reports from Portadown on the bombers' "deliberate provocation"
According to reports, a car had been abandoned in the area and army bomb experts had been called. The force of the blast shattered windows as far as 300 yards away.

It is thought a warning had been received and that the area had been evacuated when the bomb went off.

It is still not clear if there were any casualties but the blast caused extensive damage to the town centre.

[ image: David Trimble: left to view damage]
David Trimble: left to view damage
Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, in whose constituency Portadown is located, said he believed the bombing was the IRA's response to not getting their own way in the peace talks.

He also blamed another bomb on Friday night in Moira, County Down, which also caused extensive damage, on the IRA.

Mr Trimble pointed out that that bomb had been in the constituency of his party colleague Jeffrey Donaldson.

The UK Government has hinted it believes the Moira bomb to be the work of a republican splinter group called the Continuity Army Council.

"We are two leading members of the UUP involved in the talks. I think this is the IRA's response to the conduct of the talks," said Mr Trimble, who left the talks at lunchtime to visit Portadown.

[ image: A bomb exploded at Moira on Friday]
A bomb exploded at Moira on Friday
"I think it underlines the silliness of people who think they can be re-admitted to the talks."

He said he believed the IRA had decided some time ago that its objectives could not be achieved through the talks process because of the Unionist presence.

But he called for loyalists to remain calm and not react violently.

"Because we have prevented them using the talks the way they wanted they are now venting their spleen on our constituencies and our towns." he added.

As army helicopters circled overhead, other unionist politicians and loyalist leaders gathered at the scene.

Deputy leader of the Democratic Unionists Peter Robinson said: "This bears all the hallmarks of the IRA. It has been carried out strategically to their advantage."

He insisted the unionist community would feel revulsion at the blast. "They are finding it difficult to understand why the government is prepared to allow the IRA to maintain their credibility in the talks.

"I don't believe there can ever be a place at the negotiating table for the people who did this."

Also at the scene was Mark Fulton, a close associate of the late LVF leader Billy Wright whose murder in the Maze prison in December sparked a round of killings.

He said: "The people in Portadown are incensed. I would say loyalists will not be amused at this."

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